Soul of the City is a youth leadership development program of the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C., that uses the city of Washington and its unique neighborhoods and culture as a classroom. As a part of the city’s Summer Youth Employment program based at the Department of Human Services, sixteen young people developed a digital humanities project. This year marks what would have been the 75th Birthday of Washington, D.C. native Marvin Gaye. It was his life, music and politics that served as a textbook and lens to understanding their city this past summer.


The youth employees researched Washington and the Nation’s history through Gaye’s seminal 1971 album, “What’s Going On?” Through this understanding and inspiration, the youth wrote and recorded their own version of the classic title track, What’s Going On – 2014. The song artfully highlights the challenges and the hope of today’s D.C. through their perspective.Grammy-nominated artist Kokayi produced the song and it was recorded at WHUR 96.3 FM studios on Howard University’s campus.


Team members also narrated tours of different neighborhoods that Marvin once called home and institutions that shaped the singer, recorded podcasts about current-day issues that shape their own communities, as well as designed community surveys to gather data from elders about what life was like in 1971.The group’s work can be found at

””It was a real privilege to see Marvin Gaye’s hometown through the eyes of a new generation of Washingtonians,” said Natalie Hopkinson, who was the lead scholar on the project. “From coping with violence to finding love, a lot hasn’t changed since the original What’s Going On? But today’s D.C. youth also grapple with everything from technology overload to gentrification to navigating our schools. I am grateful that the Humanities Council provided a platform for this extraordinary group of young people to engage with the cultural geography and history of our city–and to lift their voices for posterity.”

On Sunday, August 3, 2014, Soul of the City premiered the song and project at the first Humanities, Arts and Technology Festival at St. Elizabeths East. The youth shared their experiences, participated in a Q&A session and debuted their 2014 edition of “What’s Going On.”


The “What’s Going On” edition of Soul of the City was led by Author and Scholar Natalie Hopkinson and our Programs and Marketing Manager, Michael L. Chambers, II

For questions about this project, please contact Michael Chambers at

Listen to What’s Going On-2014 below.


About Soul of the City

The Humanities Council of Washington, DC has presented Soul of the City for almost a decade to hundreds of young people. It emphasizes one of the Council’s core beliefs that effective leadership can be cultivated through a curriculum that combines humanities concepts with skill building. SOTC encourages young people to view their city, their country and their world in new ways and prepares them for leadership. During the summer of 2014, there were two Soul of the City programs, one based at the Department of Human Services and the other at Gateway DC on the St. Elizabeths East Campus. The youth based at Gateway DC researched the culture and developed oral history projects, including walking tours, of the Congress Heights neighborhood.


Media Contact: Natasha Brown

Humanities Council of Washington DC

Communications Consultant